Randy Weston solo
One of the last remaining links to the bebop era, pianist Randy Weston is a true giant of the jazz world—and not just because he stands 6’8” tall. When he emerged as a leader in the mid-50s it was clear that he’d already absorbed key lessons from Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, composing future jazz standards like “Hi-Fly” “Little Niles,” and “Berkshire Blues,” but his greatest achievements lay before him. Beginning in the 60s he became one of the first jazz musicians—along with Art Blakey and Max Roach—to seriously explore jazz’s African roots. When countless American jazz musicians were packing their bags for Europe in the 60s—where they faced less racism and made a better living than in the US—Weston departed for Tangiers, Morocco, where he opened his own jazz club.
On recordings like the classic 1964 album African Cookbook he hinted African-jazz fusions, but by the end of the decade he was breathing in the sounds and traditions of North Africa, and throughout the rest of his career he’s worked closely with Gnawa musicians, and adapted the sound of the bass-like guimbri and the clattering qarqabas into his own writing. In 1992 he released one of this greatest albums The Spirits of Our Ancestors, a 2-CD set featuring arrangements by the great Melba Liston—to whom he’ll salute when he sits in with the Geof Bradfield Sextet on Friday evening—and contributions from saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. The latter was supposed to premiere the epic composition “African Sunrise” with Machito’s orchestra at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 1984, but travel problems prevented him from making it in time. Four years later Claudio Roditi and Chico O’Farrill Orchestra pulled it off. He’s continued to make gripping work, whether exploring the compositions of Ellington and Monk or collaborating with diverse musicians from around the globe. Weston’s fiercely rhythmic music, driven by his propulsive left hand figures, is always special, and as rare as his Chicago appearances have been in recent years, solo concerts are even less common.